Android OEM requirements unveiled

Android OEM requirements unveiled

Summary: Google contracts require handset makers, if they want any Google Android apps, to carry all of them, with prominence and defaults as Google dictates.

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According to legal documents cited by Harvard Business School professor Ben Edelman, Android handset makers who wish to carry any of Google's apps, such as YouTube or Maps, must carry all of them. They must also make those apps prominent as dictated by Google and set them as the default app in some cases.

The restrictions specified in the contract relate to apps and services provided by Google, including the Google Play app and store, and not to the base operating system itself. The Android Open Source Project is licensed under other, much more open agreements.

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Edelman obtained Google's Mobile Application Distribution Agreement (MADA) from the public record of the Oracle America v. Google litigation. In those trials the Samsung MADA and HTC MADA were admitted into evidence. The documents are marked "HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL - ATTORNEY'S EYES ONLY" but were admitted in open court and are available from the clerk.

Edelman cites five "key provisions of the MADA:"

  • "Devices may only be distributed if all Google Applications [listed elsewhere in the agreement] ... are pre-installed on the Device." (MADA section 2.1)
  • "Unless otherwise approved by Google in writing ... Company will preload all Google Applications approved in the applicable Territory ... on each device." (MADA section 3.4(1))
  • "Google Phone-top Search and the Android Market Client icon must be placed at least on the panel immediately adjacent to the Default Home Screen; ... all other Google Applications will be placed no more than one level below the Phone Top" (MADA Section 3.4(2)-(3))
  • "Google Phone-top Search must be set as the default search provider for all Web search access points on the Device." (MADA Section 3.4(4))
  • Google's Network Location Provider service must be preloaded and the default. (MADA Section 3.8(c) — exceptions are provided for territories where Google NLP service is inadequate)

Edelman has been writing about Internet privacy issues for many years but, as he himself notes in his blog, he has some conflicts of interest. His disclosure: "I serve as a consultant to various companies that compete with Google. That work is ongoing and covers varied subjects, most commonly advertising fraud. I write on my own — not at the suggestion or request of any client, without approval or payment from any client."

Edelman continues with his interpretation of the legal and market implications of the document. He argues that the provisions tying Google's apps together help Google to expand into new markets and to keep competition out. For instance, it prevents a handset company from making a separate deal with another search engine or location service in exchange for top placement of them. It might give a Google app more prominence than another market leader. The handset company can choose to include other apps, but if they are sufficiently buried then they may seem like clutter to the user.

He also argues that the restrictions harm consumers by leaving handset companies with much less to sell: Since they can't sell top placement or default status to other app vendors, more of the cost of the phone will be borne by the customer.

Edelman cites statements by Google executives which tout the company's commitment to openness. In the light of the details of the MADA, some (in particular this blog by then Senior Vice President of Mobile at Google Andy Rubin), appear misleading. Others he cites, such as an exchange between Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and Senator Kohl in a hearing, are perhaps subject to misinterpretation, but strictly true. In any case, Google requires handset companies to keep the MADA confidential, and this by itself enhances Google's competitive position.

He closes with a series of examples where he says Google ties one product or service to other services. Edelman has written extensively on Google business practices over the years.

We have contacted Google for a reaction to Edelman's posting, but have not yet received a response.

Topics: Google, Mobile OS, Mobility

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37 comments
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  • Doesn't sound all that unusual.

    Other companies tie their services in just as tightly, and even reset them against the users alternate configurations...
    jessepollard
    • The monopolist dilemma

      The problem is that other companies don't have monopolies in mobile operating systems.

      So you have Google abusing its monopoly in mobile OSs, by forcing OEMs to configure Android in certain ways, which preclude or undermine competing apps and services; and also distributing Android below cost, which undermines competing mobile OSs.
      P. Douglas
      • Except that's not what's happening.

        I'm no Google fan, but I'm not going to call them a monopolist. First of all, anyone can have Android without Google. Google is simply saying that if you want their stuff you have to take it their way. Amazon and Xiaomi have no problem saying "No!" to Google. If LG, HTC, and the rest do, well–judging by their Android handset sales, they may want to reconsider the whole idea.
        matthew_maurice
      • Any one can use android

        No strings attached.
        Take Amazon as the example.
        Google Apps are free, but conditions on their use apply.
        Boothy_p
      • It doesn't have a monopoly.

        Anyone can fork Android and do what they want.
        jessepollard
        • Open System?

          I think the author is having a problem with the definition of "open" versus "closed" systems.
          bigpicture
      • because apple and windows always offer prime placing for Google in theirs.

        How dare Google build an OS and ecosystem and give it away for free with the stipulation that if you want to offer Google apps and call it android you must follow certain rules... That's unheard of!

        Oh wait... Its not unheard of, its normal practice.. Particularly with non free OS variants.

        I'd say telling people what apps you can have and can't have is far more restrictive. If any of those Google handset makers are outraged, they can do what amazon did and fork it, or they can sell windows phones.. Many do.

        If you want your phone to be a Google Android phone, a system that was created by Google, it naturally has to be a Google phone as Google designed it.

        Android had those rules from day one when it was the massive underdog. Now that its huge and has earned billions of dollars for lots of companies it is somehow unfair?

        HTC and Sony And others may not have great figures presently, but even they would not argue that android earned them billions just not enough go outweigh the patent taxes that the likes of Microsoft apply.

        HTC got as big as they did solely on the back of Android.. They couldn't maintain it but that isn't there operating systems fault.

        Gee, who to believe... A guy that consults with Google competitors or market evidence?

        This sounds much like a certain patent "expert" that supposedly just happens to agree with all the positions taken by his clients Microsoft and Oracle, a relationship you have to read most of his huge site to find details on because it isn't detailed front and center as it should be. Shocking hey!
        frankieh
      • OEMs can choose at any time to ditch Google

        and fork the system like Amazon has done. OEMs stick with Google's contracts because their apps are just damn good and consumers want them, not because of any issues with the OS.
        theoilman
    • Ding Ding

      Isn't that the same that pushed Microsoft into Antitrust waters in 90s? Well we get it, since it is Google, it is ok with you and US Govt.
      Ram U
      • i bet if the title read microsoft OEM requirements unveiled

        MS contracts require handset makers, if they want any WP apps, to carry all of them, with prominence and defaults as MS dictates, these shills would cry murder of how wrong it is that ms would tie their services so tightly and that ms should be fined or stopped from doing this because its illegal or something.
        DontUseGoogleAtAll
        • DontUseGoogleAtAll... that i almost certainly what the WP contracts do say.

          Have you seen a WP phone that defaults to anything but Bing? In fact with WP7 they didn't offer any other option.. In mango you had to hack the registry to offer anything but Bing.. so lets not try arguing bias until we get to actually compare the agreements because I don't think even you are silly enough to suggest that everyone's favourite twice convicted monopolist has an agreement for Windows phone that is less onerous than Googles.
          frankieh
      • Nope.

        What pushed Microsoft into the monopoly was the exclusive contracts with vendors.

        What got them into trouble was using that monopoly to block competitors of Microsoft applications from access.
        jessepollard
      • nope... Microsoft did much worse.

        They forced OEM,s to sell a windows OS with every PC, whether it was wanted or not do not preinstall any non ms OS. Get worse price and a worse deal if you don't.

        Didn't offer interoperability info so that leading products like lotus, Netscape and others couldn't compete with the Microsoft offering anymore, despite their creation of the software category they were in.

        They also did a lot of nasty stuff related to DR-DOS, they settled many claims of IP theft to avoid court and public exposure, many related to IE and Office and have paid out billions for their indescretions... To this day you can not down load a real chrome or Firefox browser on windows RT or WP.. Ms insists that all non MS browser's not use their own engines but use a low performance ms engine that can't compete with their IE browser.

        Lucky for Microsoft that they are not selling well. If WP was market leader, they would already be back in anti-trust court. Apple are gfhe same or worse. Google allows Microsoft to release IE or Safari on android in an open format.. If you can make a better browser than chrome, Google invites you to do so and make it available on android.. Not so on iOS or WP, they use rules to ensure you can't beat them on their on OS.. If that isn't anticompetitive, then its certain that nothing google is doing is either.
        frankieh
      • Really Know your History

        The Microsoft ant-trust was just a little bit different, MS contracts with the OEMs had it such that they could install any OS that they wanted, but would still pay MS a license fee. Essentially the OEMs had a disincentive to install any OS but Windows, and also any pre-installed software such as Lotus or Word-Perfect etc. So then the third party software could only be sold as aftermarket in the shrink wrap boxes. Not to mention the "Windows is not done until Lotus won't run" factor. I don't think that Google has any of these restrictive provisions, OEMs can always install Windows, or Ubuntu, or the Firefox OS etc.
        bigpicture
        • Wrong contract

          The court voided that one right around 1998. We were discussing MS' subsequent efforts to require OEMs to start with a default config dictated by MS.
          John L. Ries
  • Search monopoly

    Since Google has a search monopoly it would be fairest for all new android users/devices to be presented with a ballot screen from which to choose the search provider.

    This is starting to smell of another impending EU antitrust investigation. Other tech companies have already complained that although free Android is a Trojan horse for google products.
    Xippy
    • It's easy to change one's search engine

      Takes approximately five seconds.
      John L. Ries
      • It's easy to change a browser

        But the EU forces Microsoft to present users with a ballot.
        Xippy
        • Not so easy to change a browser

          And I thought the EU's decision in that case was questionable.

          But tell me. Why does MS care so much about how popular a particular component of Windows is? Is it afraid of lost sales?
          John L. Ries
        • yes, but that was because MS used dodgy practise to unseat netscape..

          When I got into X86 window PC's.. Windows didn't have a browser, and Netscape had a masive market share lead.. Microoft basically broke the internet so badly that you couldn't write a script without trying to detect the functionality you wanted first.. and apply all manner of fixes to make your site look reasonable with the browser that now came with windows.

          We are very lucky that microoft was forced to compete on merit.. otherwise we'd all still be uing IE6.. remember, Microsoft almost completely stopped developing IE once they'd won..
          frankieh